The Giving Back Foundation

Just Go Out and Do It: Inspiring Words from Boston University's 2011 President's Panel

October 29, 2011
Source: Boston Innovation

Meera Gandhi, founder of The Giving Back Foundation, remembers when the creator of Smartfood Popcorn came to speak to her evening class at Boston University 25 years ago. He told them how he'd been inspired by two things: pizza and popcorn. He loved eating both of them, and although his mother said he'd never make anything of himself, he strove to find a way to combine the two anyway. To his mother's surprise, he sold his company to Frito-Lay for an estimated $14.5 million, saying to the class, "If you have an idea and you are convinced of your idea, that is 98 percent of the game. Once you're convinced of your idea, you'll be able to convince others, too."

Gandhi recounted that story at Boston University's 2011 President's Panel, an event that's become a traditional part of the school's Alumni Weekend. Highlighting the ingenuity that's come out of the community, the panel focused on "The Many Faces of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Boston University," welcoming tech, social, retail and academic entrepreneurs to the stage.

Moderating the discussion was Vinit Nijhawan, managing director of Technology Development at Boston University and a serial entrepreneur, who started by asking who in the audience had either started their own company or wanted to start their own company. A majority of the crowd raised their hand. The panel's unanimous advice? "Just do it."

Jitendra Saxena, founder of the Netezza Corporation, said that while working at his first job, he realized the founders of the company were really no different than he was. He thought, "If these guys can do it, so can I." He then started his first company and has been an entrepreneur for over 35 years since.

"The people who create companies are still ordinary people, but the difference is that they just went out and did it," Saxena said.

James J. Collins, an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and co-director of the Center for Biodynamics at Boston University, admitted he just "went out and did it" and formed his own company, but then completely failed. The failure, however, gave him experience.

"Yes, go and do it, but don't be afraid to fail," Collins said. "And don't be concerned if you fail."

Ben Fischman, CEO of e-commerce site Rue La La, watched his first company, Lids, go bankrupt and had to sell it in 2001. He said going through bankruptcy, however, was the best thing that could have happened to him. All of his successes have stemmed from that failure, and he's learned how to take existing businesses and make them even better. Although his company is "24 by seven and 365," he said he loves his work and has been able to find a good balance.

Others talked about finding a proper balance between home and work themselves. Collins said the most crucial thing is to learn when to say "no," even to things you might not necessarily want to say no to.

Saxena reminds his staff, "Our business is not a life or death issue. We won't save lives. We won't kill anyone. At some point, work is done. The world won't be affected if I don't see my email."

It all comes down to knowing yourself, understanding your capabilities and then following your passions. There is no "failure" when it comes to starting your own business. While you might not make money, what you've made, instead, are experiences  and lessons to grow from. You can never underestimate yourself, or those around you, and the more passionate you are, the better.

"The good news about passion is that it's contagious," Fischman said.

The crowd left inspired, wondering if it was time they take their ideas and turn them into realities.

"When you think of something, just go out and do it," Saxena said. "If it doesn't work, you can do something else."